Don’t look now, but Donald Trump has made moves in the past week that are — wait for it — actually quite smart.
● Trump announced the hiring of Rick Wiley, who managed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign, as his national political director this past week. Wiley joins other longtime GOP operatives, including Paul Manafort, Don McGahn, Ed Brookover and Rick Reed, in Trump’s inner circle — evidence that Trump rightly assessed that his loyal core of staffers wasn’t equipped to handle the knife-fight battle for delegates between now and July 18, when the Republican National Convention is to begin.
●Trump has leaned hard into the idea that the whole process is “rigged” against him, pointing to what happened in Colorado two weekends ago — where he was out-organized and lost all 34 of the state’s delegates to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — as evidence that party leaders are trying to silence him. (More on Trump’s delegate problems below.)
This is a terrific message for Trump and may be the second act he needs to push himself over the delegate threshold by June 7, when California votes. He always runs best as the aggrieved outsider, the guy whom the establishment is trying to control but keeps slipping out of its grasp. He has struggled of late because he became the very clear front-runner and didn’t really have anything or anyone to run against. Now that he can rail against the rigged system, he is right back in his messaging wheelhouse.
“The Republican National Committee, they’d better get going, because I’ll tell you what: You’re going to have a rough July at that convention,” Trump said Saturday in Syracuse, N.Y. — a message that will thrill his supporters and send shivers through the RNC and the rest of the GOP establishment.
●The Trump family town hall meeting on CNN last week was an absolute home run for his candidacy. Trump himself is never going to be warm and fuzzy. His pointy edges are what make his supporters love him. But they are also what make lots and lots of people not like him; 67 percent of Americans view Trump unfavorably in a new Washington Post-ABC poll. His family — especially his daughter Ivanka, who is not only his best surrogate but should consider running for office herself one day (I’ll have more to say on that later in this space) — rounds off some of his sharp edges. You look at his children, and they all seem to be relatively normal, well-adjusted people who love and admire their dad. Which, you think to yourself, must mean that Trump the dad was doing something right. The more that Trump’s family is in the picture, the better for him.
Looking forward, there’s reason for optimism in the Trump camp. He looks well positioned to take the lion’s share of New York’s 95 delegates Tuesday. Seven days later, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island vote — these should be good states for Trump. It’s not until May 3, in Indiana, where Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will go all out, that Trump would be likely to face the prospect of defeat again.
Then there’s this fact: Recent polling suggests little appetite in the Republican Party to keep the nomination from Trump if he has the most votes but can’t get to 1,237 delegates before the convention.
Sixty-two percent of Republicans in an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday morning said that if no candidate had a majority of delegates going into the convention, then the person with the most votes should be the nominee. That will, almost certainly, be Trump, who has 8.2 million votes to Cruz’s 6.3 million. Just 1 in 3 respondents said the GOP delegates should choose the nominee who would be the best standard-bearer for the party in the general election.
(Sidebar for those keeping the Paul D. Ryan flame lit despite the House speaker’s repeated insistence that he is not running — 71 percent of those polled said it would be “unacceptable” for the party to nominate someone who didn’t run in the primary process.)
But wait! There’s more! That same NBC-WSJ poll found that Republicans divided on whether a third-party bid by Trump — if he doesn’t get the GOP nod — would be okay; 45 percent said it would be acceptable and 47 percent said it wouldn’t, a split decision that Trump would almost certainly take if he decided to go that route.
And he may have to do just that if he doesn’t get the 1,237 delegates he needs on the first ballot. For a second straight weekend, Cruz dominated Trump in the local and county meetings that select the delegates for the convention. He was shut out of Wyoming’s 14 delegates and was drubbed in Georgia.
Many of those delegates will be bound to Trump on the first ballot at the convention but will be free to choose their own candidate — Cruz — on the second ballot and beyond.
Trump’s losses in the delegate-selection process mar what has been a good 10 days for him. But the truth is that his only shot at the nomination has long been to get 1,237 delegates either before the convention or on its first ballot. In that regard, nothing has changed.